In film, some characters are destined to become popular. Others may have popularity thrust upon them.

But seriously, everybody is familiar with the protagonist of a movie. He has the most time on screen, usually brings about some positive outcome, and is generally one cool operator. One might expect such a character to have a lot of appeal off-screen and to drive merchandising purchases by consumers. Secondary characters may not be as popular simply for the reason that they aren’t as well-recognized by the viewing audience and do not play any significant role in the film, which is why it is surprising when secondary characters do acquire success off-screen.

Take Minions from Despicable Me, for example. Yes Minions, those funny yellow beings that follow Gru around and seem to hang on his every word (after all, isn’t that what a loyalist does best?) are the subject of a new movie to be released next year. Titled “Minions”, the film chronicles the quest of the little henchmen to find their next employer. But that’s not the only place where Minions are popping up. Giant balloons, building blocks, talking plastic toys, even cell phone cases, all bare the likeness of the minion.

For the Despicable Me franchise, Minions have burst onto the scene as a hugely popular secondary character. When they made their appearance in the first installment, the director did not think they would become such a key element of the film. Now, 5 years later, Minions are not only a key element of the films, they form a piece of a multi-million dollar franchise that has traversed from the screen straight into mainstream culture. 

As we transition from summer into fall, we get ever closer to that venerable time of year when the skies turn gray, the cold winds blow, and the ground turns a stark shade of white. Who would have ever thought that a movie set in a cold, snowy world with a plot evolving around a person with the magical ability to freeze people would be such a success. Of course, the whole reason for its success seems not to be the setting of the story but the characters and the underlying themes. It would be quite a shame if these themes were copied from somebody else’s story, especially if the copying was done by Disney, a media company hailed as a bastion of originality and creator of magical experiences for multiple generations of kids and kids at heart.

What is so special about Frozen that has enabled it to gross nearly $1.2 billion (yes, with a “b”) worldwide since its release? Could it be funny scenes, like the one where Olaf and Sven battle it out across the throws of a frozen pond to reach Olaf’s discarded nose (which itself is the subject of litigation over copyright infringement)? Threads like this woven throughout the plot make the movie as a whole special and contribute to the entertainment value of the film, but the true essence of the movie is the overarching theme of sisterly love sprinkled with the usual obstacles of overcoming physical and emotional hardships and, of course, realizing true love.

In case you are wondering, I will go out on a limb and say, “yes, you probably have seen this before.” Yet, Tanikumi (the author who claims Disney lifted the storyline of Frozen from a book she wrote) is claiming that her story wasn’t something you have seen before. Here is a table showing some of the elements from Tanikumi’s book, all of which are cited in her suit against Disney for copyright infringement as elements that are similar to elements in Frozen:

1.     Village near snowy mountains: Story is set at the base of a snow covered mountains where two sisters live with their parents.
2.     Two sisters: Both sisters are a few years apart, have opposite hair colors, and each own a horse.
3.     Intense sisterly love: one sister has a deep love for the other sister.
4.     Older sister accidentally hurts younger sister: the two sisters are playing when one falls into a vat of hot custard, becoming severely injured.
5.     Younger sister falls in love: the suitor-to-be is a dark haired, tall and fair man
6.     The suitor-to-be has competition: another man has a love interest in the younger sister (who is conflicted about who she really loves)